Desire Is The Basis Of Your Characters’ Behavior

Humans beings are a curious lot. So too are your characters. Traditional storytelling tropes dictate that the characters in your screenplay must have a goal. They must relentlessly pursue that goal to its conclusion whether they achieve it or not. They must have compelling stakes to reach their goal, and the escalation of the obstacles preventing them from achieving that goal.

Who sets that goal? What motivates characters to put themselves in danger in order to gain, or lose something? The answer is desire. Your characters must want something. Something above all else which affects their behavior.

Without a strong desire to achieve, the character’s actions will be pointless. The consequences of failing to achieve their goal must be high.

Let’s take a look at the key forms of desire to help you write stronger characters:


This is the simplest one to define. It refers to obtaining a material thing, such as an outfit, a car, a house, or a controlling interest in something, like a company. The next question screenwriters should ask are what does this acquisition mean to a character.

This relates to character motivation. Will it bring them something immediate like food in their stomachs, a roof over their heads, money to pay an overdue bill, or a suit to wear to a job interview?

These pursuits lead to satiety. A square meal will curtail hunger, an apartment will avert homelessness, or a suit may secure a job.

Satiety can also lead to greed. Your character may want a bigger house, better car, or more expensive suit. These factors related to your characters’ choices and inform their… character. Are they austere or are they flamboyant?

Aquisition can also relate to obtaining less tangible pursuits, such as increased social status, peace of mind, communal acceptance. Achievement of a less tangible goal requires more work from your characters. How hard will they work to become a member of an exclusive group or gain social acceptance?


One person’s gain is another’s loss. It could be a fair fight, such as training to win a football game, or an unfair fight, such as cheating to win an election.

Competition can be noble or non noble, moral or immoral, rational or irrational. A season’s worth of training  to win a football championship at any cost, even if it means cheating, lessens the value of a win. Yet, some characters will endure the cost if it secures a win.

A competive desire also includes winning a war, or protecting oneself from enemies.

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This is a form of narcissism, insecurity, or self esteem. The desire to achieve a selfish goal is solely a function of showing off and boasting of their achievements. This is the primary goal of such desires. The object of the desire is secondary.

Even if the results aren’t immediate,  the desire for notoriety and fame are powerful motivators in certain characters.


The desire for power can have both positive and negative motivations. Characters may want a small power, such as president of their local book club, or a larger power, such as the president of their country. It could stem from a desire to control, a desire to influence, or a desire to serve.

Some characters are seduced by the power of having power.

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